"I've had many a long, hard night but this is the worst of them," Samson thought.
There's many a bad night in the history of the pioneers, its shadows falling on lonely, ill-marked roads cut by rivers, creeks and marshes and strung through unnumbered miles of wild country. Samson was up and off at daylight in a bitter wind and six inches of snow. It was a kind of work he would not have undertaken upon any call less commanding than that of friendship. He reached Chicago at noon having had nothing to eat that day. There was no such eager, noisy crowd in the streets as he had seen before. The fever of speculation had passed. Some of the stores were closed; he counted a score of half-built structures getting weather-stained inside and out. But there were many people on the main thoroughfares, among whom were Europeans who had arrived the autumn before. They were changing but the marks of the yoke were still upon them. In Chicago were the vitals of the West and they were very much alive in spite of the panic.
Samson bought some new clothes and had a bath and a good dinner at the City Hotel. Then he went to the office of Mr. Lionel Davis. There to his surprise he met his old acquaintance, Eli Fredenberg, who greeted him with great warmth and told of having settled in Chicago.
A well-dressed young man came out of an inner office and informed Eli that Mr. Davis could not see him that day.
"I'd like to see Mr. Davis," said Samson as Eli went away.
"I'm Mr. Davis's secretary," the young man politely informed him.
"What's a secretary?" Samson asked.
"It's a man who helps another with his work."
"I don't need any help myself—thank you," said Samson. "You tell him that I've got some money that belongs to him and that I'm ready to deliver it."
The young man disappeared through the door of the private office and soon returned and conducted Samson into the presence of Mr. Davis who sat at a handsome desk, smoking, in a room with fine old mahogany furnishings brought up from New Orleans. The two men recognized each other.
"Well, sir, what is it about?" the young speculator demanded.
"The daughter of my old friend, Jack Kelso, owes you some money and I want to pay it," said Samson.
"Oh, that is a matter between Miss Kelso and me." Mr. Davis spoke politely and with a smile.
"Not exactly—since I knew about it," Samson answered.
"I refuse to discuss her affairs with you," Davis declared.
"I suppose you mistrust me," said Samson. "Well, I've offered to pay you and I'm going to make it plain to them that they don't have to worry any more about the money you loaned them."
"Very well, I bid you good morning."
"Don't be in a hurry," Samson answered. "I have a note of five thousand dollars against you. It is endorsed to me by Henry Brimstead and I want to collect it."
"I refuse to pay it," Davis promptly answered.
"Then I shall have to put it in the hands of a lawyer," said Samson.
"Put it where you like but don't consume any more of my time."
"But you'll have to hear me say that I don't think you're honest."
"I have heard you," Davis answered calmly.
Samson withdrew and went to the home of Mrs. Kelso. He found her with Bim's boy in her lap—a handsome little lad, then a bit over two years old,—at the house on La Salle Street. The good woman gave Samson an account of the year filled with tearful praise of the part Mr. Davis had played in it. Samson told of the failure of Bim's letter to reach him and of his offer to return the money which Davis had paid for their relief.
"I don't like the man and I don't want you to be under obligation to him," said Samson. "The story of Harry's death was false and I think that he is responsible for it. He wanted her to marry him right away after that—of course. And she went to the plague settlement to avoid marriage. I know her better than you do. She has read him right. Her soul has looked into his soul and it keeps her away from him."
But Mrs. Kelso could believe no evil of her benefactor, nor would she promise to cease depending on his bounty.
Samson was a little disheartened by the visit. He Went to see John Wentworth, the editor of The Democrat, of whose extreme length Mr. Lincoln had humorously spoken in his presence. The young New Englander was seven feet tall. He welcomed the broad-shouldered man from Sangamon County and began at once to question him about Honest Abe and "Steve" Douglas and O.H. Browning and E.D. Baker and all the able men of the middle counties. Then he wanted to know of the condition of the people since the collapse of the land boom. The farmer's humorous comment and sane views delighted the young editor. At the first opportunity Samson came to the business of his call—the mischievous lie regarding Harry's death which had appeared in The Democrat. Mr. Wentworth went to the proof room and found the manuscript of the article.
"We kept it because we didn't know and do not now know the writer," said Wentworth.
Samson told of the evil it had wrought and conveyed his suspicions to the editor.
"Davis is rather unscrupulous," said Wentworth. "We know a lot about him in this office."
Samson looked at the article and presently said: "Here is a note that he gave to a friend of mine. It looks to me as if the note and the article were written by the same hand."
Mr. Wentworth compared the two and said: "You are right. The same person wrote them. But it was not Davis."
When Samson left the office of The Democrat he had accomplished little save the confirmation of his suspicions. There was nothing he could do about it.
He went to Eli Fredenberg. Eli, having sold out at the height of the boom in Springfield, had been back to Germany to visit his friends.
"I haf money—plendy money," said Eli. "In de ol' country I vas rich. I thought maybe I stay dere an' make myself happy. It vas one big job. Mein frients dey hate me becos I haf succeed so much. De odders hate me becos de butcher haf mein fadder been. Dey laugh at my good close. Nobody likes me not. I come avay. Dey don't blame you here becos you vos born."
"What has Davis done to you?" Samson asked, recalling where he had met Eli that morning.
Eli explained that he had borrowed money from Davis to tide him over the hard times and was paying twelve per cent. for it.
"Dis morning I get dot letter from his secretary," he said as he passed a letter to Samson.
It was a demand for payment in the handwriting of the Brimstead note and had some effect on this little history. It conveyed definite knowledge of the authorship of a malicious falsehood. It aroused the anger and sympathy of Samson Traylor. In the conditions then prevailing Eli was unable to get the money. He was in danger of losing his business. Samson spent a day investigating the affairs of the merchant. His banker and others spoke well of him. He was said to be a man of character and credit embarrassed by the unexpected scarcity of good money. So it came about that, before he left the new city, Samson bought a fourth interest in the business of Eli Fredenberg. The lots he owned were then worth less than when he had bought them, but his faith in the future of Chicago had not abated.
He wrote a long letter to Bim recounting the history of his visit and frankly stating the suspicions to which he had been led. He set out on the west road at daylight toward the Riviere des Plaines, having wisely decided to avoid passing the plague settlement. Better weather had come. In the sunlight of a clear sky he fared away over the vast prairies, feeling that it was a long road ahead and a most unpromising visit behind him.
WHEREIN A REMARKABLE SCHOOL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE BEGINS ITS SESSIONS IN THE REAR OF JOSHUA SPEED'S STORE. ALSO AT SAMSON'S FIRESIDE HONEST ABE TALKS OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE LAW AND THE RIGHT OF REVOLUTION, AND LATER BRINGS A SUIT AGAINST LIONEL DAVIS.
The boy Joe had had a golden week at the home of the Brimsteads. The fair Annabel knowing not the power that lay in her beauty had captured his young heart scarcely fifteen years of age. He had no interest in her younger sister, Jane. But Annabel with her long skirts and full form and glowing eyes and gentle dignity had stirred him to the depths. When he left he carried a soul heavy with regret and great resolutions. Not that he had mentioned the matter to her or to any one. It was a thing too sacred for speech. To God in his prayers he spoke of it but to no other.
He asked to be made and to be thought worthy. He would have had the whole world stopped and put to sleep for a term until he was delivered from the bondage of his tender youth. That being impossible it was for him a sad but not a hopeless world. Indeed he rejoiced in his sadness. Annabel was four years older than he. If he could make her to know the depth of his passion perhaps she would wait for him. He sought for self-expression in The Household Book of Poetry—a sorrowful and pious volume. He could find no ladder of rhyme with an adequate reach. He endeavored to build one. He wrote melancholy verses and letters, confessing his passion, to Annabel, which she did not encourage but which she always kept and valued for their ingenuous and noble ardor. Some of these Anacreontics are among the treasures inherited by her descendants. They were a matter of slight importance, one would say, but they mark the beginning of a great career. Immediately after his return to the new home in Springfield the boy Josiah set out to make himself honored of his ideal. In the effort he made himself honored of many. His eager brain had soon taken the footing of manhood.
A remarkable school of political science had begun its sessions in that little western village. The world had never seen the like of it. Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, E.D. Baker, O.H. Browning, Jesse B. Thomas, and Josiah Lamborn—a most unusual array of talent as subsequent history has proved—were wont to gather around the fireplace in the rear of Joshua Speed's store, evenings, to discuss the issues of the time. Samson and his son Joe came often to hear the talk. Douglas looked like a dwarf among those long geared men. He was slight and short, being only about five feet tall, but he had a big, round head covered with thick, straight, dark hair, a bull-dog look and a voice like thunder. The first steamboat had crossed the Atlantic the year before and The Future of Transportation was one of the first themes discussed by this remarkable group of men. Douglas and Lincoln were in a heated argument over the admission of slavery to the territories the first night that Samson and Joe sat down with them.
"We didn't like that little rooster of a man, he had such a high and mighty way with him and so frankly opposed the principles we believe in. He was an out and out pro-slavery man. He would have every state free to regulate its domestic institutions, in its own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States. Lincoln held that it amounted to saying 'that if one man chose to enslave another no third party shall be allowed to object.'"
In the course of the argument Douglas alleged that the Whigs were the aristocrats of the country.
"That reminds me of a night when I was speaking at Havana," said Honest Abe. "A man with a ruffled shirt and a massive gold watch chain got up and charged that the Whigs were aristocrats. Douglas in his broadcloth and fine linen reminds me of that man. I'm going to answer Douglas as I answered him. Most of the Whigs I know are my kind of folks. I was a poor boy working on a flat boat at eight dollars a month and had only one pair of breeches and they were buckskin. If you know the nature of buckskin, you know that when it is wet and dried by the sun it will shrink and my breeches kept shrinking and deserting the sock area of my legs until several inches of them were bare above my shoes. Whilst I was growing longer they were growing shorter and so much tighter that they left a blue streak around my legs which can be seen to this day. If you call that aristocracy I know of one Whig that is an aristocrat."
"But look at the New England type of Whig exemplified by the imperious and majestic Webster," said Douglas.
"Webster was another poor lad," Lincoln answered. "His father's home was a log cabin in a lonely land until about the time Daniel was born when the family moved to a small frame house. His is the majesty of a great intellect."
There was much talk of this sort until Mr. Lincoln excused himself to walk home with his two friends who had just returned from the North, being eager to learn of Samson's visit. The latter gave him a full account of it and asked him to undertake the collection of Brimstead's note.
"I'll get after that fellow right away," said Lincoln.
"I'm glad to get a chance at one of those men who have been skinning the farmers. I suppose he has other creditors in Tazewell County?"
"I presume there are many of them."
"I'll find out about that," said Lincoln.
They sat down by the fireside in Samson's house.
"Joe has decided that he wants to be a lawyer," said Samson.
"Well, Joe, we'll all do what we can to keep you from being a shot-gun lawyer," Abe Lincoln began. "I've got a good first lesson for you. I found it in a letter which Rufus Choate had written to Judge Davis. In it he says that we rightly have great respect for the decisions of the majority, but that the law is something vastly greater and more sacred than the verdict of any majority. 'It is a thing,' says he, 'which has stood the test of long experience—a body of digested rules and processes bequeathed to us by all the ages of the past. The inspired wisdom of the primeval east, the robust genius of Athens and Rome, the keener modern sense of righteousness are in it. The law comes down to us one mighty and continuous stream of wisdom and experience accumulated, ancestral, widening and deepening and washing itself clearer as it runs on, the agent of civilization, the builder of a thousand cities. To have lived through ages of unceasing trial with the passions, interests, and affairs of men, to have lived through the drums and tramplings of conquest, through revolution and reform and all the changing cycles of opinion, to have attended the progress of the race and gathered unto itself the approbation of civilized humanity is to have proved that it carries in it some spark of immortal life.'"
The face of Lincoln changed as he recited the lines of the learned and distinguished lawyer of Massachusetts.
"His face glowed like a lighted lantern when he began to say those eloquent words," Samson writes in his diary. "He wrote them down so that Josiah could commit them to memory."
"That is a wonderful statement," Samson remarked.
Abe answered: "It suggests to me that the voice of the people in any one generation may or may not be inspired, but that the voice of the best men of all ages, expressing their sense of justice and of right, in the law, is and must be the voice of God. The spirit and body of its decrees are as indestructible as the throne of Heaven. You can overthrow them but until their power is reestablished as surely it will be, you will live in savagery."
"You do not deny the right of revolution."
"No, but I can see no excuse for it in America. It has remained for us to add to the body of the law the idea that men are created free and equal. The lack of that saving principle in the codes of the world has been the great cause of injustice and oppression. The voice of revolution here would be like that of Iago in the play and worse. It would be like the unscrupulous lawyer, anxious for a fee, who says to a client, living happily with his wife: 'I know she is handsome and virtuous and intelligent and loving but she has her faults. There are lovelier women. I could easily get a divorce for you.' We would quickly throw such a man out of the door. A man's country is like his wife. If she is virtuous and well-disposed he should permit no meddling, odious person to come between them, or to suggest to him that he put poison into her tea. Least of all should he look for perfection in her, knowing that it is not to be found in this world of ours."
Honest Abe rose and walked up and down the room in silence for a moment. Then he added:
"Choate phrased it well when he said 'We should beware of awaking the tremendous divinities of change from their long sleep. Let us think of that when we consider what we shall do with the evils that afflict us.'"
The boy Joe has been deeply interested in this talk.
"If you'll lend me a book I'd like to begin studying," he said.
"There's time enough for that," said Lincoln. "First I want you to understand what the law is and what the lawyer should be. You wouldn't want to be a pettifogger. Choate is the right model. He has a dignity suited to the greatness of his chosen master. They say that before a Justice of the Peace in a room no bigger than a shoemaker's shop his work is done with the same dignity and care that he would show in the supreme court of Massachusetts. A newspaper says that in a dog case at Beverly he treated the dog as if he were a lion and the crabbed old squire with the consideration due a chief justice."
"He knows how to handle the English language," Samson observed.
"He got that by reading. He is the best read man at the American bar and the best Bible student. There's a lot of work ahead of you, Joe, before you are a lawyer and when you're admitted success comes only of the capacity for work. Brougham wrote the peroration of his speech in defense of Queen Caroline nineteen times."
"I want to be a great orator," the boy exclaimed with engaging frankness.
"Then you must remember that character is the biggest part of it," Honest Abe declared. "Great thoughts come out of a great character and only out of that. They will come even if you have little learning and none of the graces which attract the eye. But you must have a character that is ever speaking even when your lips are silent. It must show in your life and fill the spaces between your words. It will help you to choose and charge them with the love of great things that carry conviction.
"I remember when I was a boy over in Gentryville a shaggy, plain-dressed man rode up to the door one day. He had a cheerful, kindly face. His character began to speak to us before he opened his mouth to ask for a drink of water.
"'I don't know who you are,' my father said. 'But I'd like it awful well if you'd light an' talk to us.' He did and we didn't know till he had gone that he was the Governor of the state. A good character shines like a candle on a dark night. You can't mistake it. A firefly can't hold his light long enough to compete with it.
"Webster said in the Knapp trial: 'There is no evil that we can not either face or fly from but the consciousness of duty disregarded.'
"A great truth like that makes wonderful music on the lips of a sincere man. An orator must be a lover and discoverer of such unwritten laws."
It was nearing midnight when they heard footsteps on the board walk in front of the house. In a moment Harry Needles entered in cavalry uniform with fine top boots and silver spurs, erect as a young Indian brave and bronzed by tropic suns.
"Hello!" he said as he took off his belt and clanking saber. "I hang up my sword. I have had enough of war."
He had ridden across country from the boat landing and arriving so late had left his horse at a livery stable.
"I'm lucky to find you and Abe and Joe all up and waiting for me," he said as he shook their hands "How is mother?"
"I'm well," Sarah called from the top of the stairway. "I'll be down in a minute."
For an hour or more they sat by the fireside while Harry told of his adventures in the great swamps of Southern Florida.
"I've done my share of the fighting," he said at length. "I'm going north to-morrow to find Bim and her mother."
"I shall want you to serve a complaint on one Lionel Davis," said Mr. Lincoln.
"I have one of my own to serve on him," Harry answered. "But I hope that our case can be settled out of court."
"I think that I'll go with you as far as Tazewell County and draw the papers there," said Lincoln.
When the latter had left for his lodgings and Joe and his mother had gone to bed, Samson told Harry the details of his visit to Chicago.
"She may have taken the disease and died with it before now," said the young man. "I'll be on my way to Honey Creek in the morning. If she's sick I'll take care of her. I'm not going to worry about Davis. But when I get there I wouldn't wonder if he'd have to worry a little about me."
WHEREIN ABE LINCOLN REVEALS HIS METHOD OF CONDUCTING A LAWSUIT IN THE CASE OF HENRY BRIMSTEAD ET AL., VS. LIONEL DAVIS.
They found many of Davis's notes in Tazewell County. Abe Lincoln's complaint represented seven clients and a sum exceeding twenty thousand dollars.
"Now, Harry, you don't like Davis and I can't blame you for it," said Honest Abe before they parted. "Don't spoil our case by trying to take it out of his hide. First we've got to take it out of his pocket. When I get through there may not be any hide on him worth speaking of, but if there is you can have it and welcome."
With the papers in his pocket Harry went on to the Honey Creek settlement. There he found that the plague had spent itself and that Bim had gone to a detention camp outside the city of Chicago. He rode on to the camp but was not permitted to see her, the regulations having become very strict. In the city he went to the store of Eli Fredenberg. The merchant received him with enthusiasm. Chicago had begun to recover from the panic. Trade was lively. Eli wanted Harry to go to work in the store until he was prepared for the law.
"You must stay here until you haf got a wife already," said the thoughtful Eli. "It is bat for you and Bim to be not marrit so much."
The young man favored both the commercial and the sentimental suggestions of Eli. He had long felt the lure of that promising little city on the lake shore.
"I wish you'd take this complaint and serve it on Davis," he said. "I don't want to see him if I can help it. If you don't mind, you can tell him that I've come to life and am here in the city and that if he kills me again he'd better do it while I'm looking. It would be more decent."
Eli was delighted with a task which promised a degree of discomfort to the man who had endeavored to ruin him. Harry spent the afternoon with Mrs. Kelso and Bim's baby boy. The good woman was much excited by the arrival of the young soldier.
"We have had a terrible year," she said. "We couldn't have lived through it without the help of a friend. Bim went away to take care of the sick in the smallpox neighborhood. She was rather discouraged. Our friend, Mr. Davis, is in love with her. She promised to marry him. It seemed to be the only way out of our troubles. But she will not even write to him now. I think that she is very unhappy."
"I shall not try to increase her troubles, but I shall prevent her from marrying Davis if I can," said Harry.
"Because I think he is dishonest."
"He has convinced me that all the reports are wrong," Mrs. Kelso declared. "I think that he is one of the kindest and best of men."
"I shall not argue with you as to the character of my rival," Harry answered. "The facts will be on record one of these days and then you can form your own judgment. I hope you won't mind my coming here to see you and the baby now and then."
"You are always welcome. But Mr. Davis comes often and feeling as you do it might be unpleasant for you to meet him."
"It would. I'll keep away until the air clears," said Harry.
He wrote a very tender letter to Bim that day. He told her that he had come to Chicago to live so that he might be near her and ready to help her if she needed help. "The same old love is in my heart that made me want you for my wife long ago, that has filled my letters and sustained me in many an hour of peril," he wrote. "If you really think that you must marry Davis, I ask you at least to wait for the developments of a suit which Abe Lincoln is bringing in behalf of many citizens of Tazewell County. It is likely that we shall know more than we do now before that case ends. I saw your beautiful little boy. He looks so much like you that I long to steal him and keep him with me."
In a few days he received this brief reply:
* * * * *
"Dear Harry: Your letter pleased and pained me. I have been so tossed about that I don't know quite where I stand. My brain is like a bridge that has been washed out by floods. I am picking up the fragments and trying to rebuild it. For a long time my life has been nothing but a series of emotions. What Honest Abe may be able to prove I know not, but I am sure that he can not disprove the fact that Mr. Davis has been kind and generous to me. For that I can not ever cease to be grateful. I should have married him before now but for one singular circumstance. My little boy can not be made to like him. He will have nothing to do with Mr. Davis. He will not be bribed or coerced. Time and kindness do not seem to diminish his dislike. My soul has been drugged with argument and—I can not help saying it—bribed with favors. But the boy has been steadfast. He has kept his frankness and honesty. I saw in this a prophecy of trouble. I left home and went down into the very shadow of death. It may be that we have been saved for each other by the wisdom of childhood. I must not see you now. Nor shall I see him until I have found my way. Even your call can not make me forget that I am under a solemn promise. I must keep it without much more delay unless something happens to release me.
"I'm glad you like the boy. He is a wonderful child. I named him Nehemiah for his grandfather. We call him Nim and sometimes 'Mr. Nimble' because he is so lively. I'm homesick to see him and you. I am going to Dixon to teach and earn money for mother and the baby. Don't tell any one where I am and above all don't come to see me until in good heart I can ask you to come.
"God bless you!
* * * * *
In a few weeks the suit came on. It was tried in the new brick Court-House in Chicago. Davis's defense, as given in the answer, alleged that the notes were to be paid out of the proceeds of the sale of lots and that in consequence of the collapse of the boom there had been no such proceeds. His claim was supported by the testimony of his secretary and another and by certain letters of his, promising payment as soon as the land was sold, and by letters from the plaintiffs allowing that grace. As to the understanding upon which the notes were drawn, there was a direct issue of veracity for which Abe Lincoln was exceedingly well prepared. He had gained possession of many facts in the history of the young speculator, including the important one that he had been convicted of fraud in New Orleans. Mr. Lincoln's cross-examination was as merciless as sunlight "falling round a helpless thing." It was kindly and polite in tone but relentless in its searching. When it ended, the weight of Davis's character had been accurately established. In his masterly summing up Mr. Lincoln presented every circumstance in favor of the defendant's position. With remarkable insight he anticipated the arguments of his attorney. He presented them fairly and generously to the court and jury. According to Samson the opposing lawyers admitted in a private talk that Lincoln had thought of presumptions in favor of Davis which had not occurred to them. Therein lay the characteristic of Mr. Lincoln's method in a lawsuit.
* * * * *
"It was a safe thing for him to do for he never took a case in which justice was not clearly on his side," Samson writes. "If he had been deceived as to the merits of a case he would drop it. With the sword of justice in his hand he was invincible."
* * * * *
First he put the thing to be weighed on the scale fully and fairly. Then, one by one, he put the units of gravity on the other side so that the court and jury saw the turning of the balance.
He covered the point at issue with a few words "every one of which drew blood," to quote a phrase from the diary. He showed that the validity of such claims rested wholly on the character of the man who made them, especially when they were opposed to the testimony of people whose honesty had been questioned only by that man.
"Now as to the secretary," said Mr. Lincoln, "I honestly regret that he has disagreed with himself. A young man ought not to disagree with himself as to the truth and especially when he contradicts the oath of witnesses whom we have no reason to discredit. I want to be kind to him on account of his youth. He reminds me of the young man who hired out to a Captain in Gloucester and shipped for the China coast and learned presently that he was on a pirate vessel. He had been a young man of good intentions but he had to turn to and help the business along. When the ship was captured he said:
"I didn't want to be a pirate, but there was only one kind o' politics on that ship and the majority was so large I thought that the vote might as well be unanimous. At first I was in favor of reform but the walkin' was that bad I had to decide between a harp and a cutlass.'
"This parable serves to illustrate the history of most young men who fall into bad company. The walking becomes more or less bad for them. They get into the bondage of Fear. We know not how it may have influenced the action of Cap'n Davis's First Mate. Probably since the hard times began, the walking has looked bad to him but still there was walking. I am sorry it must be said that there was walking and I hope that he will now make some use of it."
He did and in time confessed to Samson Traylor that Mr. Lincoln's reproach had been the saving of him. A judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs for the full amount of their claim with costs. The character of Lionel Davis had been sufficiently revealed. Even the credulous Mrs. Kelso turned against him. Mr. Lincoln's skill as a lawyer was recognized in the north as well as in the middle counties. From that day forth no man enjoyed a like popularity in Tazewell County.
When Samson and Harry Needles left the Court-House, there seemed to be no obstacle between the young man and the consummation of his wishes. Unfortunately, as they were going down the steps Davis, who blamed Samson for his troubles, flung an insult at the sturdy Vermonter. Samson, who had then arrived at years of firm discretion, was little disturbed by the anger of a man so discredited. But Harry, on the sound of the hateful words, had leaped forward and dealt the speculator a savage blow in the face which for a few seconds had deprived him of the power of speech. That evening a friend of Davis called at the City Hall with a challenge. The hot-blooded young soldier accepted it against the urgent counsel of Samson Traylor, Mr. Lincoln having left the city. It was a fashion of the time for gentlemen to stand up and shoot at each other after such a quarrel. But Davis, since the trial, had no character to defend and therefore no right to enter the field of honor with a man of Harry's standing. But the young officer had promised to fight and was not to be dissuaded.
As to the details of the tragic scene that followed next day, the writer has little knowledge. Samson was not the type of man for such a chronicle. The diary speaks of his part in it with shame and sorrow and remorse. His mind seems to have been too much engaged with its own fears and thoughts to take note of the color. We may infer from one remark in it that the sky was clear. We know, too, that it was at day-break when he and Harry rode to a point on the prairie "something more than a mile from the city limits." There he tells us they met Davis and one friend of the latter and two surgeons who had driven to the scene in a box wagon. It is evident, too, that great secrecy had been observed in the plan and its execution and that, until sometime after the last act, Lincoln knew nothing of the later developments in the drama of Davis's downfall. For the rest of the deplorable scene the historian must content himself with the naked details in the diary of a puritan pioneer. They are, at least, direct and derive a certain vividness from their haste to be done with it as a proceeding of which the less said the better.
* * * * *
"I went because there was no escape from it and with the shadow of God's wrath in my soul," Samson writes. "The sun rose as we halted our horses. We paced the field. The two men took their places twenty yards apart. Harry was a little pale but he stood up as straight and steady as a hitching post. The pistols rang out at the command to fire and both men fell. Davis had been hit in the left shoulder. My handsome boy lay on his face. The bullet had bored through his right lung. Before I could reach him he had risen to his feet ready to go on with the battle. Davis lay like one paralyzed by the shock of the bullet. His seconds declared they were satisfied. The surgeons began their work. I saw them take the bullet out of Harry's back where it had lodged under his skin. I helped them put the wounded men into the wagon and rode to the house of one of the doctors near the city wherein were rooms for the accommodation of critical cases, leading Harry's horse and praying for God's help and forgiveness. I took care of the boy until Steve Nuckles came to help me. Bim arrived when Harry was out of his head and didn't know her. She was determined to stay and do the nursing but I wouldn't let her. She did not look strong. I loaned her the money to pay the debt to Davis and persuaded her to go back to her work in Dixon. She went and was rather heart-broken about it.
"As she was leaving she looked into my face and said: 'Don't tell him or any one what has happened to me. I want to tell him.'
"I promised to keep her secret and did it. Soon I learned that she was down sick of her worries. I sent her mother to her and kept the small boy with me.
"The surgeon said that Harry would live if lung fever didn't set in. It set in but he pulled through. He mended slowly. I had some fear of arrest but the conspiracy of silence kept the facts under cover. It was partly due, I guess, to the friendship of John Wentworth for me and Honest Abe. He kept it out of the papers. There were no complaints and the rumors soon fell into silence. I spent about six weeks at Harry's bedside and in the store which has begun to prosper.
"The boy, 'Mr. Nimble,' is a cunning little man. When he began to get better, Harry loved to play with him and listen to his talk about fairies. The young man was able to leave his bed, by and by, but he didn't get over his weakness and pallor. He had no appetite. I sent him with Nuckles into the Wisconsin woods to live in the open. Then I took the small boy to Dixon with me in the saddle. Bim had just got back to her work. She was distressed by the news of Harry's condition.
"'I fear he has got his death-blow,' she said with a sad look in her face. 'I had hoped that we could be married this autumn. But something comes between us always. First it was my folly and now it is his folly. It seems as if we hadn't sense enough to get married when there's nothing in the way of it.'
"She told me that Eliphalet Biggs had been there. He had heard of the boy and wished to see him and demanded to know where he was. For fear that Biggs would try to get possession of 'Mr. Nimble' I took him with me to Springfield in the saddle.
"I learn that Davis has recovered his health and left the city. A man can not do business without friends and after the trial Chicago was no place for him."
WHICH PRESENTS THE PLEASANT COMEDY OF INDIVIDUALISM IN THE NEW CAPITAL, AND THE COURTSHIP OF LINCOLN AND MARY TODD.
Samson, with "Mr. Nimble" on a pad stuffed with straw in front of him, jogged across the prairies and waded the creeks and sloughs on his way to Springfield. The little lad was in his fourth year that summer. He slept and talked much on the way and kept Samson busy with queries about the sky and the creeks and the great flowery meadows. They camped the first night in a belt of timber and Samson writes that the boy "slept snug against me with his head on my arm. He went to sleep crying for his mother." He adds:
* * * * *
"It reminded me of the old days of my young fatherhood. 'Mr. Nimble' wanted to pick all the the flowers and splash his bare feet in every stream. In the evening he would talk to the stars as if he were playing with them. To him the whole world is a plaything. He is like some of the grown folks in Chicago. He would sit hanging on to the reins and talk to the horse and to God by the hour. He used to tell me that God was a friend of his and I think he was right. It was good luck to get back to Sarah and the children. They took the little stranger into their hearts. 'Heart room, house room' is the motto of this part of the country."
* * * * *
It was a new town to which Samson returned. The Governor and the state officers had moved to Springfield. The new Capitol was nearing completion. The hard times which had followed the downfall of '37 had unjustly diminished Mr. Lincoln's confidence in his ability as a legislator. He enjoyed the practice of the law which had begun to turn his interest from the affairs of state. But the pot of political science boiled before the fireplace in the rear of Joshua Speed's store every evening that Lincoln and his associates were in Springfield. The wit and wisdom which bubbled into its vapors and the heat that surrounded it were the talk of the town. Many came to witness the process and presently it was moved, for a time, to more accommodating quarters. Before a crowd of people in the Presbyterian Church, Lincoln, Logan, Baker and Browning for the Whigs, and Douglas, Calhoun, Lamborn and Thomas for the Democrats, having assiduously prepared for the trial, debated the burning issues of the time. The effort of each filled an evening and Lincoln's speech gave him new hope of himself. Wise men began to have great confidence in his future. He had taken the style of Webster for his model. He no longer used the broad humor which had characterized his efforts on the stump. A study of the best speeches of the great New Englander had made him question its value in a public address. Dignity, clear reasoning and impressiveness were the chief aims of his new method, the latter of which is aptly illustrated by this passage from his speech in reply to Douglas in the debate mentioned:
* * * * *
"If I ever feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect it is when I contemplate the cause of my country deserted by all the world besides, and I standing up boldly and alone and hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here without contemplating consequences before high heaven and in the face of the world I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty and my love."
* * * * *
In these perfervid utterances one may find little to admire save a great spirit seeking to express itself and lacking as yet the refinement of taste equal to his undertaking. He was no heaven-born genius "sprung in full panoply from the head of Jove." He was just one of the slow, common folk, with a passion for justice and human rights, slowly feeling his way upward. His spirit was growing. Strong in its love and knowledge of common men and of the things necessary to their welfare, it was beginning to seek and know "the divine power of words." Every moment of leisure he gave to the study of Webster and Burke and Byron and Shakespeare and Burns. He had begun to study the art of Irving and Walter Scott and of a new writer of the name of Dickens. There were four men who slept with him, in the room above Speed's store, and one of them has told how he used to lie sprawled on the floor, with his pillow and candle, reading long after the others had gone to sleep. Samson writes that he never knew a man who understood the art of using minutes as he did. A detached minute was to him a thing to be filled with value. Yet there were few men so deeply in love with fun. He loved to laugh at a story-telling and to match his humor with Thompson Campbell—a famous raconteur—and to play with children. Fun was as necessary to him as sleep. He searched for it in people and in books.
He came often to Samson's house to play with "Mr. Nimble" and to talk with Joe. Some of his best thoughts came when he was talking with Joe and some of his merriest moments when he was playing with "Mr. Nimble." He confessed that it was the latter that reminded him that he had better be looking for a wife.
But Lincoln was only one of many remarkable personalities in Springfield who had discovered themselves and were seeking to be discovered. Sundry individuals were lifting their heads above the crowd but not with the modesty and self-distrust of Honest Abe. "Steve" Douglas, whom Samson had referred to as "that little rooster of a man," put on the stilts of a brave and ponderous vigor. His five-foot stature and his hundred pounds of weight did not fit the part of Achilles. But he would have no other. He blustered much with a spear too heavy for his hands. Lincoln used to call him a kind of popgun.
This free-for-all joust of individualism—one of the first fruits of Freedom in the West—gave to the life of the little village a rich flavor of comedy. The great talents of Douglas had not been developed. His character was as yet shifty and shapeless. Some of the leading citizens openly distrusted him. He sought to command respect by assaulting men of full size and was repeatedly and soundly thumped for his presumption. He had endeavored publicly to chastise the sturdy Simeon Francis and had been bent over a market cart and severely wigged by the editor. Lincoln used to call these affairs "the mistakes of Douglas due wholly to the difference between the size of his body and the size of his feelin's." He never liked this little man, in opposing whom he was to come to the fulness of his power on the platform. It is evident that Lincoln regarded him as an able advocate of small sincerity looking chiefly for personal advancement.
There is a passage in the diary which illustrates the character of Douglas and Lincoln's knowledge of it. The passage relates to a day in the famous debates of 1858. Lincoln had not reached Havana in time to hear the speech of his opponent. A great crowd had come by train and in wagons. Taking advantage of his absence Douglas had called Lincoln "a liar, a coward and a sneak" and declared that he was going to fight him.
Lincoln heard of this and said in his speech:
"I shall not fight with Judge Douglas. A fight could prove nothing at issue in this campaign. It might prove that he is a more muscular man than I or that I am a more muscular man than he, but this subject is not mentioned in either platform. Again he and I are really very good friends and when we are together he would no more think of fighting me than of fighting his wife. Therefore when the Judge talked about fighting he was not giving vent to any ill feeling but was trying to excite—well, let us say enthusiasm against me on the part of his audience."
Justice accomplished her ends now and then with comic displays of violence in the prairie capital. One night Abe Lincoln and certain of his friends captured a shoe-maker who had beaten his wife and held him at the village pump while the aggrieved woman gave him a sound thrashing. So this phase of imperialism was cured in Springfield by "hair off the same dog" as Lincoln put it.
One evening while E.D. Baker was speaking in the crowded village court room above Lincoln's office and was rudely interrupted and in danger of assault, the long legs of Honest Abe suddenly appeared through a scuttle hole in the ceiling above the platform. He leaped upon it and seizing a stone water pitcher defied any one to interfere with the right of free speech in a worthy cause.
So it will be seen that there were zestful moments in these sundry vindications of the principles of Democracy in the prairie capital.
About this time Miss Mary Todd, the daughter of a Kentucky banker, arrived in Springfield to visit her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. She was a fashionably dressed, good-looking girl of blue-gray eyes and dark hair. She had been well educated in the schools of Lexington and could speak French as well as English.
"Well, Mary, haven't you found the fortunate young man yet?" Mr. Edwards playfully asked the day of her coming.
"You know my husband is going to be President of the United States and I hoped that I would find him in Springfield," Mary answered in a like vein.
"There's great fishing here," said Mr. Edwards. "I know the very man you are looking for. He has come up from the ranks and is now the most popular member of the Legislature. He can make a stirring speech and they say he is going to be the President of the United States. He's wise and witty and straight as a string but a rough diamond—big, awkward and homely. You're just the girl to take him in hand and give him a little polish and push him along. His name is Abraham Lincoln."
Speed knew the Todds—a distinguished Kentucky family with a Governor of Virginia and other historic figures in its record. When he called upon Mary she asked about Mr. Lincoln and said she would like to meet him.
"She's just the girl for you, Abe," Speed said to him that evening. "She is bright and well educated and her family has influence. She could be a great help to you."
This interested the member from Sangamon County who was indeed eager to get along. The companionship of a refined young lady was the very thing he needed.
"Let's go over and pay our respects to her," Speed suggested. They went, Lincoln being carefully dressed in his first suit of black clothes. Miss Todd was a bright, vivacious girl of middle stature, twenty-two years old. She was fashionably dressed and carried her head proudly—a smart-looking, witty, well spoken girl but not especially handsome. She was most agreeable to the young men. Honest Abe was deeply impressed by her talk and fine manners and general comeliness. He felt her grace and charm and spoke of it, with enthusiasm. But to him and to her there seemed to be an impassable gulf between them. She changed her mind about that, however, when she heard him speak and felt the power of his personality and saw his face lighted by the candle of his spirit. It was a handsome face in those moments of high elation. Hardship and malarial poison had lined and sallowed his skin. He used to say that every time the fever and ague walked over him, they left a track on his face. The shadows of loneliness and sorrow were in its sculpturing. But when his eyes glowed with passion one saw not the rough mask which the life of the pioneer had given him. His form lost its awkwardness; his face took on a noble and impressive beauty. Those times every eye looked longingly upon him because of the great and wonderful things with which he was interfused. To quote his own words to the boy, Josiah Traylor, his character was speaking as well as his lips. Mary had the insight to recognize his power. She felt the strength of his spirit. She agreed with her friends that here was a man of great promise. She felt the need of him.
To one who loved beauty and respected women as he did the grace and refinement of this young lady had a singular appeal coupled as it was with the urge of his strong, masculine nature. It was a revelation. He was like a young poet going out into the open and seeing for the first time the mysterious beauty of the mountains or "the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring." He began to seek and study refinement of thought, of manner, of dress, of expression. He knew that he needed Mary but had the feeling that she was not for him.
A woman who lived near the Edwards's house had a small, hairy, poodle dog. One day as Abe and Mary were walking along the street, they met this woman who asked if they had seen her dog.
"I wouldn't wonder if some one down the street had got him tied to the end of a pole and is using him to swab off his windows," said Abe Lincoln with a good-natured laugh. "I'll try to find him for you."
Mary enjoyed fun and this and like sallies of the young legislator added a certain zest to their friendship. Women are like children in their love of humor.
The diminutive Douglas saw in Miss Todd an asset of much value and his attentions began to be assiduous. Mary was indifferent to his lofty manner and sonorous vocalism. Abe Lincoln liked her better for that.
She encouraged the visits of the latter and invited his confidence. The fact filled him with a great joy. They went about together. In the Edwards parlor he modestly told her of his work and his life plan. She differed with him on certain subjects which were unfortunately fundamental. He did not love her as he had loved Ann. But her personality pleased and fascinated the young legislator. One evening under the spell of it he asked her to be his wife. She consented. Then he began to think it over.
It was like Lincoln in his relations with women to get the cart before the horse so to speak. The points upon which they disagreed came up for consideration. She could not think as he did on the subject of slavery and the kindred one of State Rights. His manners were not like hers. He was thirty-one years old that summer. It was rather late in life to undertake any great change in his manners. They grew naturally out of one's history and character. He could be kind and gentle in his way. But, mainly, his manners would have to be like the rugged limbs of the oak. The grace and elegance of the water-willow and the white birch were not for him. It saddened him to conclude that he would have to be for a long time just what he was—crude, awkward, unlearned in the graces and amenities of cultivated people. He rightly judged that his crudeness would be a constant source of irritation to the proud Mary. As their acquaintance progressed the truth of his conviction grew more apparent. This, however, did not so much concern him as her lack of sympathy with some of his deepest motives. He decided that, after all, he did not love her and that to marry her would be committing a great Wrong.
Some of the unhappiest days of his life followed. His conscience gave him no rest. He knew not what to do. He told a friend that if his misery were equally distributed to the whole human race each would have a troublesome burden. He was wont to take long walks into the country with "Mr. Nimble" those days often carrying the boy on his shoulders. It is likely that the little lad was a great comfort to him. He wrote a letter to Miss Todd in which he reviewed the history of his thinking on the subject of their marriage and frankly but tenderly stated his conviction that it would imperil her happiness to marry him. Before sending it he submitted the letter to his friend Speed.
The latter read it over and looked very grave.
"What do you think of it?" Lincoln asked.
"I would never send a letter like that to a lady," Speed answered. "If you feel as you say go and tell her so, but don't put it in a letter."
Lincoln went to see her that evening and returned to his friend in a more cheerful mood.
"Did you tell her?" Speed asked.
"Yes, I told her."
"She burst out crying and I threw my arms around her and kissed her and that settled it. We are going to be married."
What an illustration of the humanity and chivalry of Honest Abe was in the proceeding!
"I'm sure you'll get along all right together," said Speed. "Your spirit is jealous of any one likely to get in its way. But she won't. She'll fall in line and do what she can to help you."
Now a little before this time Henry Brimstead and other creditors of Davis had gone to Chicago in the matter of the satisfaction of their judgment against him. Henry had driven a wagon across the prairies and, returning, had brought Bim and her mother to his home and then to Springfield. It was while they were there that Harry had come down to Chicago out of the woods in a condition of health which had alarmed his physician. The latter had put him on a steamboat and sent him east. He was bound for the mountain country in northern New York.
Bim and her mother returned to Chicago on the stage, the former to take a place in the store as the representative of Samson's interest.
Harry was three years in the wilderness trying to regain his health. Success came to him in the last year of his banishment.
Toward the end of it he received a letter from Mr. Lincoln. It was written soon after that curious climax in the courting of Mary Todd. In this letter he said:
* * * * *
"I am serving my last term in the Legislature. I learn that you are in better health and I hope that you will have the strength and inclination to return soon and be a candidate for my seat in the house. Samson will not do it, being so busy with large affairs. You are young. You have won distinction in the service of your country. You have studied the problems of the county and the state. Samson and Baker and Logan and Browning agree with me that you are the man for the place.
"As for myself I am going to be married in a year or so. I shall have to give all my time to the practice of the law. I am now in partnership with Stephen T. Logan and am slowly clearing my conscience of debt. I have done what I could for the state and for Sangamon County. It hasn't been much. I want you to take up the burden, if you can, until I get free of my debts at least. By and by I may jump into the ring again."
* * * * *
Harry was glad to obey the summons. Soon after the arrival of Mr. Lincoln's letter his doctor gave the young man what he called "an honorable discharge." The magic of youth and its courage and of good air had wrought a change of which the able doctor had had little hope in the beginning.
In his travels through the great forest Harry had met David Parish and Stephen Van Renssalaer at whose homes on the shore of the St. Lawrence he had spent many a happy, summer day. Three years had passed since that fateful morning on the prairie. Through the winters he had lived in a comfortable hunter's camp on the shore of Lake Placid. Summers he had wandered with a guide and canoe through the lakes and rivers of the wilderness hunting and fishing and reading the law books which he had borrowed from Judge Fine of Ogdensburg. Each summer he worked down the Oswegatchie to that point for a visit with his new friends. The history of every week had been written to Bim and her letters had reached him at the points where he was wont to rest in his travels. The lovers had not lost their ardor. Theirs was the love "that hopes and endures and is patient."
On a day in June, 1841, he boarded a steamboat at Ogdensburg on his way to Chicago. He arrived in the evening and found Samson at the home of Bim and her mother—a capacious and well-furnished house on Dearborn Street. Bim was then a little over twenty-five years old. A letter from John Wentworth says that she was "an exquisite bit of womanhood learned in the fine arts of speech and dress and manner." He spoke also of her humor and originality and of her gift for business "which amounted to absolute genius."
The store had doubled in size under her management and with the help of the capital of Samson and Sarah Traylor. Its wholesale and retail business was larger than any north of St. Louis. The epidemic had seized her toward the last of her nursing and left the marks of its scourge upon her. It had marred her beauty but Samson writes, "the girl was still very handsome. She was well filled out and stood as straight as an arrow and was always dressed as neat as a pin. I fear she was a little extravagant about that. She carried her head like a sleek, well-fed Morgan colt. She was kind of scared to meet Harry for fear of what he'd think of those little marks on her face but I told her not to worry."
"You are the smartest and loveliest looking creature that I ever saw in my life," said Harry after he had held her in his arms a moment.
"But see what has happened to me—look at my face," she answered.
"It is more beautiful than ever," he said. "Those marks have doubled my love for you. They are medals of honor better than this one that I wear."
"Then I think that I'll take you off and marry you before you have a chance to fight another duel or find another war to go to," said Bim. "There is the mustache that I used to long for and which wouldn't come," she added with a smile.
"Is there anything else that I seem to need?" Harry asked. "I could grow whiskers now."
"Don't," she answered. "The great need of the West is shears and razors and a law to compel their use. There can be little romance in the midst of so much hair."
"I shall be careful not to offend you," Harry laughed. "I want to marry you as soon as possible. I've been looking forward to that since I was sixteen."
"I don't hear of anything but love and marriage," said Samson. "We've been rassling down at our house to keep Josiah from running off and getting married. He's engaged already."
"Engaged! To whom?" Harry asked.
"To Annabel Brimstead. She's a little older than he is. She laughed at him and promised to marry him as soon as he was nominated for President by all his friends. She would now vote for him herself. He has become a good athlete and the best scholar in school. He has every boy and girl in the village working for him evenings and Saturdays."
"What are they doing?" Harry asked.
"Making those newfangled things they call lucifers. You can build a fire in a second with 'em. They cut splinters out of soft wood, dip their ends in brimstone—which Joe learned how to make—and put them in a hot oven until the brimstone is baked. Then a scratch will bring a flame. Joe puts them up in bundles and sells them to the merchants and calls them lucifer matches. He has invented a machine that will cut and dip a thousand splinters an hour. I tell you Annabel is in danger."
He took a lucifer out of his pocket and scratched it on the bottom of his boot. The party looked with wonder at its flame which quickly consumed the slender thread of pine in his fingers.
"I have always thought that Joe would make a whale of a man," said Harry.
"We all seem to be threatened with immediate and overwhelming happiness," Bim exclaimed.
"The only thing in the way of mine is the national debt that I have accumulated," Harry remarked.
"I knew he'd think of something," said Bim ruefully. "If I wanted to abolish the noble institution of marriage I'd make him chairman of the ways and means committee."
"Harry, your credit is still good with me, and I'm prosperous," Samson began. "I want you to know that Bim's energy and skill are mostly responsible for my success. I guess we owe more to your sickness than you're aware of. If it hadn't been for that we would be plodding along at the same old pace. We would not have felt the need of speeding up. It was your misfortune that brought Bim into the store. If she wants to retire and marry you I rather think she is entitled to do it. I don't want any more fooling around about this matter. Sarah and I couldn't stand it. She's kept me awake nights talking about it. The thing has worried us plenty. We rebel and demand action before anything else happens. We feel as if we had some rights in this case."
"I concede them and second your demand," Harry answered. "Bim must name a near day. I only need a week to get some clothes made and to go up to Milwaukee on a little matter of business."
"I don't know whether we'll give him a week or not," said Bim playfully. "A great many things may happen to him in a week."
WHICH DESCRIBES A PLEASANT HOLIDAY AND A PRETTY STRATAGEM.
Two days later Bim suggested that they should take a day's ride in the open and spend the night at the home of a friend of hers in a settlement known as Plain's End, Harry having expressed a wish to get out on the prairies in the saddle after his long term of travel on a steamboat.
"Are you sure that you can stand an all day's journey?" Bim asked.
"I! I could kill a bear with my hands and carry him home on my back and eat him for dinner," the young man boasted.
"I've got enough of the wild West in me to like a man who can eat bears if there's nothing better," said Bim. "I didn't know but you'd been spoiled in the homes of those eastern millionaires. If you're willing to take what comes and make the best of it, I'll give you a day that you will remember. You will have to put up with a very simple hospitality but I wouldn't wonder if you'd enjoy it."
"I can put up with anything so long as I have your help," the young man answered.
"Then I shall send word that we are coming. We will leave here day after to-morrow. Our horses will be at the door at eight o'clock in the morning. We shall take some luncheon and reach our destination late in the afternoon and return next day. It will give us a good long visit with each other and you'll know me better before we get back."
"I want to know you as well as I love you," he said. "I suppose it will be like studying law—one never gets through with it."
"I've found myself a rather abstruse subject—as bad as Coke, of which Abe used to talk so much with my father," she declared. "I shall be glad if it doesn't discourage you."
"The mystery of woman can not be solved by intellectual processes," the young man remarked. "Observation is the only help and mine has been mostly telescopic. We have managed to keep ourselves separated by a great distance even when we were near each other. It has been like looking at a star with a very limited parallax. It's a joy to be able to see you with the naked eye."
"You will have little to look at on this holiday but me and the prairies," said Bim.
"I think the prairies will be neglected. I shall wear my cavalry uniform and try to get a pair of the best horses in Chicago for the trip."
"Then you would have to get mine. I have a handsome pair of black young horses from Ohio—real high steppers. It is to be my party. You will have to take what comes and make the best of it."
The day of their journey arrived—a warm, bright, cloudless day in September 1841. The long story of those years of separation was told as they rode along. Biggs had been killed in a drunken brawl at Alton. Davis had gone to the far West—a thoroughly discredited man. Henry Brimstead had got his new plow on the market and was prospering beyond all his hopes. Eli had become a merchant of unusual ability and vision. His square dealing and good sense had done much to break down prejudice against the Jews in the democracy of the West. Agents of the store were traveling in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana selling its goods to country dealers. They carried with them the progressive and enlightened spirit of the city and the news. Everywhere they insisted upon a high standard of honesty in business. A man who had no respect for his contract was struck off the list. They spread the every-day religion of the counting room. They were a welcome, unifying and civilizing force in the middle country. Samson Traylor was getting wealth and a reputation for good sense. He had made the plan on which the business had developed. He had proved himself a wise and far-seeing man. Sarah's friends had been out in Springfield for a visit. They had invested money in the business. Her brother had decided to bring his family West and settle in Sangamon County.
The lovers stopped in a grove at noon and fed their horses and Harry, who had a bundle of Joe's lucifer matches in his pocket—a gift from Samson—built a fire and made a broach of green sticks on which he broiled beef steak.
A letter from Harry to Sarah Traylor tells of the beauty of the day—of blue bells and scarlet lilies in the meadow grass, of the whistling quail, of pigeons and wild geese flying across the sky and of his great joy in seeing again the vast sunlit reaches of the level, virgin lands.
* * * * *
"It was my great day of fulfillment, all the dearer because I had come back to health and youth and beloved scenes out of those years shadowed with loneliness and despair," he writes. "The best part of it, I assure you, was the face I loved and that musical voice ringing like a bell in merry laughter and in the songs which had stirred my heart in the days of its tender youth. You—the dear and gentle mother of my later boyhood—are entitled to know of my happiness when I heard that voice tell me in its sweeter tone of the love which has endured through all these years of stern trial. We talked of our plans as we sat among the ferns and mosses in the cool shade sweetened by the incense of burning fagots, over that repast to which we shall be returning often for refreshment in poorer days. We had thought of you and of the man so well beloved of you and us in all these plans. We shall live in Springfield so that we may be near you and him and our friend, Honest Abe."
* * * * *
It is a long letter presenting minute details in the history of that sentimental journey and allusion to matters which have no part in this record. Its substance being fully in the consciousness of the writer, he tenderly folds it up and returns it to the package—yellow and brittle and faded and having that curious fragrance of papers that have lain for scores of years in the gloom and silence of a locked mahogany drawer. So alive are these letters with the passion of youth in long forgotten years that the writer ties the old ribbon and returns them to their tomb with a feeling of sadness, finding a singular pathos in the contrast of their look and their contents. They are turning to dust but the soul of them has gone into this little history.
The young man and woman mounted their horses and resumed their journey. It was after two o'clock. The Grand Prairie lay ahead of them. The settlement of Plain's End was twenty-one miles away on its farther side. They could just see its tall oak trees in the dim distance.
"We must hurry if we get there before dark," said the girl. "Above all we must be careful to keep our direction. It's easy to get lost down in the great prairie."
They heard a cat-bird singing in a near thicket as they left their camp. It reminded Bim of her favorite ballad and she sang it with the spirit of old:
"My sweetheart, come along— Don't you hear the glad song As the notes of the nightingale flow? Don't you hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale As she sings in the valleys below? As she sings in the valleys below?"
They went on shoulder-deep in the tall grass on the lower stretches of the prairie. Here and there it gave Harry the impression that he was swimming his horse in "noisy, vivid green water." They startled a herd of deer and a number of wild horses. When they lost sight of the woods at Plain's End the young man, with his cavalry training, was able to ride standing on his saddle until he had got it located. It reminded him of riding in the Everglades and he told of his adventures there as they went on, but very modestly. He said not a word of his heroic fight the day that he and sixty of his comrades were cut off and surrounded in the "land of the grassy waters." But Bim had heard the story from other lips.
Late in the afternoon the woods loomed in front of them scarcely a mile off. Near the end of the prairie they came to a road which led them past the door of a lonely cabin. It seemed to be deserted, but its windows were clean and a faint column of smoke rose from its chimney. There were hollyhocks and sunflowers in its small and cleanly dooryard. A morning-glory vine had been trained around the windows.
"Broad Creek is just beyond," said Bim. "I don't know how the crossing will be."
They came presently to the creek, unexpectedly swollen. A man stood on the farther shore with some seventy feet of deep and rapid water between him and the travelers.
"That man looks like Stephen Nuckles," said Harry.
"It is Stephen Nuckles," Bim answered.
"Hello, Steve!" the young soldier called.
"Howdy, boy!" said the old minister. "That ar creek is b'ilin' over. I reckon you'll have to swim the hosses."
"They're young city horses and not broke to deep water but we'll try them," said Bim.
They tried but Bim's horse refused to go beyond good footing.
"You kin light at that ar house an' spend the night but the folks have gone erway," the minister called.
"I guess you'll have to marry us right here and now," Harry proposed. "Night is coming and that house is our only refuge."
"Poor boy! There seems to be no escape for you!" Bim exclaimed with a sigh. "Do you really and honestly want to marry me? If there's any doubt about it I'll leave the horses with you and swim the creek. You could put them in the barn and swim with me or spend the night in the cabin."
He embraced and kissed her in a way that left no doubt of his wishes.
"It's a cool evening and the creek is very wet," he answered. "I'm going to take this matter in my own hands."
He called to the minister: "Steve, this is the luckiest moment of my life and you are just the man of all others I would have chosen for its most important job. Can you stand right where you are and marry us?"
"You bet I kin, suh," the minister answered. "I've often said I could marry any one half a mile erway if they would only talk as loud as I kin. I've got the good book right hyah in my pocket, suh. My ol' woman is comin'. She'll be hyah in a minute fer to witness the perceedin's."
Mrs. Nuckles made her appearance on the river bank in a short time.
Then the minister shouted: "We'll begin by readin' the nineteenth chapter of Matthew."
He shouted the chapter and the usual queries, knelt and prayed and pronounced them man and wife.
The young man and woman walked to the cabin and put their horses in its barn, where they found an abundance of hay and oats. They rapped at the cabin door but got no response. They lifted its latch and entered.
A table stood in the middle of the room set for two. On its cover of spotless white linen were plates and cups and saucers and a big platter of roasted prairie chickens and a great frosted cake and preserves and jellies and potato salad and a pie and a bottle of currant wine. A clock was ticking on the shelf. There were live embers in the fireplace and wood in the box, and venison hanging in the chimney.
The young soldier looked about him and smiled.
"This is wonderful!" he exclaimed. "To whom are we indebted?"
"You don't think I'd bring you out here on the plains and marry you and not treat you well," Bim laughed. "I warned you that you'd have to take what came and that the hospitality would be simple."
"It's a noble and benevolent conspiracy that has turned this cabin into a Paradise and brought all this happiness upon me," he said as he kissed her. "I thought it strange that Mr. Nuckles should be on hand at the right moment."
"The creek was a harder thing to manage," she answered with a smile. "I told my messenger to see that the gate of the reservoir was opened at four o'clock. So, you see, you had to marry or swim. Now I've made a clean breast of it. I felt sure something would happen before you got back from Milwaukee. I was plum superstitious about it."
The young man shook with laughter and said: "You are the new woman born of the democracy of the West."
"I began to fear that I should be an old woman before I got to be Mrs. Needles."
"Whose house is this?" he asked in a moment.
"It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lukins. Their land near Chicago is now used for a cattle yard and slaughter-house and is paying them a good income. They moved here some time ago. He looks after the reservoir. Mrs. Lukins is a famous cook as you will see. We can stay here as long as we want to. We shall find everything we need in the well, the chimney, the butt'ry and the cellar. And here is the wedding supper all ready for us and I as hungry as a bear."
"In the words of Mrs. Lukins 'it is very copasetic,' and I begin to feel that I have made some progress in the study of Bim Kelso. Come, let's have our supper."
"Not until you have broiled a piece of venison. It will take a lot of food to satisfy me. I'll get the cream and butter out of the well and make a pot of coffee. Hurry up, Harry, I'm starving."
Darkness fell upon the busy lovers and soon the firelight and the glow of many candles filled the homely cabin with flickering shadows and a soft beautiful color.
"Supper is ready," she said, when the venison steak had been deposited on the platter.
"Bim, I love you not as most men love," he said as They stood a moment by the side of the table. "From the bottom of my heart I do respect you for your honor and good faith and when I think of that and of all you have suffered for my sake I bow my head and ask God to make me worthy of such a helper."
They sat down to this unusual wedding feast and as we leave them the windows of the little cabin fling their light far out upon the level plain; we hear the sound of merry laughter and of the tall grasses rustling and reeling joyously in the breeze. The moon in mid-heaven and the innumerable host around it seem to know what is passing on the edge of the Grand Prairie and to be well pleased. Surely there is nothing that finds a quicker echo in the great heart of the world than human happiness!
BEING A BRIEF MEMOIR BY THE HONORABLE AND VENERABLE MAN KNOWN IN THESE PAGES AS JOSIAH TRAYLOR, WHO SAW THE GREAT PROCESSION OF EVENTS BETWEEN ANDREW JACKSON AND WOODROW WILSON AND ESPECIALLY THE MAKING AND THE END OF LINCOLN.
Now, as I have done often sitting in the chimney corner at the day's end, I look back at my youth and manhood and tell, with one eye upon the clock, of those years of fulfillment in the progress of our beloved pilgrim. There are four and twenty of them that I shall try to review in as many minutes. At this distance I see only the high places—one looming above another like steps in a stairway.
The years of building and sentiment ended on the fourth of November, 1842, when he and Mary Todd were joined in marriage. Now, like one having taken note of the storm clouds, he strengthens the structure.
Mary tried to teach him fine manners. It was a difficult undertaking. Often, as might have been expected, she lost her patience. Mary was an excellent girl, but rather kindlesome and pragmatic. Like most of the prairie folk, for instance, Abe Lincoln had been accustomed to reach for the butter with his own knife, and to find rest in attitudes extremely indolent and unbecoming. He enjoyed sprawling on the floor in his shirt-sleeves and slippers with a pillow under his head and a book in his hand. He had a liking for ample accommodation not fully satisfied by a bed or a lounge. Mary undertook to turn him into new ways and naturally there was irritation in the house, but I think they got along very well together for all that. Mary grew fond of him and proud of his great talents and was a devoted wife. For years she did the work of the house and bore him children. He milked the cow and took care of the horse when he was at home.
Annabel and I, having just been married, went with him to Washington on our wedding-tour in 1847. He was taking his seat in Congress that year. We were with him there when he met Webster. Lincoln was deeply impressed by the quiet dignity of the great man. We went together to hear Emerson lecture. It was a motley audience—business men, fashionable ladies and gentlemen, statesmen, politicians, women with their knitting, and lion-hunters. The tall, awkward orator ascended the platform, took off his top-coat and drew a manuscript from his pocket. He had a narrow, sloping forehead, a prominent nose, gray eyes and a skin of singular transparency. His voice was rich and mellow but not strong. Lincoln listened with rapt attention to his talk about Democracy. It was a memorable night. He spoke of it often. Such contact with the great spirits of that time, of which he studiously availed himself in Washington, was of great value to the statesman from Illinois. His experiences on the floor were in no way important to him, but since 1914 I have thought often of what he said there, regarding Polk's invasion of Mexico, unauthorized by Congress as it was:
"The Provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions and they proposed to so frame the constitution that no man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."
The next year he stumped Massachusetts for "Zach" Taylor and heard Governor Seward deliver his remarkable speech on Slavery which contained this striking utterance:
"Congress has no power to inhibit any duty commanded by God on Mount Sinai or by His Son on the Mount of Olives."
On his return home Lincoln confessed that we had soon to deal with that question.
I was in his office when Herndon said:
"I tell you that slavery must be rooted out."
"What makes you think so?" Mr. Lincoln asked.
"I feel it in my bones," was Herndon's answer.
After that he used to speak with respect of "Bill Herndon's bone philosophy."
His term in Congress having ended, he came back to the law in partnership with William H. Herndon—a man of character and sound judgment. Those days Lincoln wore black trousers, coat and stock, a waistcoat of satin and a Wellington high hat. He was wont to carry his papers in his hat. Mary had wrought a great change in his external appearance.
They used to call him "a dead square lawyer." I remember that once Herndon had drawn up a fictitious plea founded on a shrewd assumption. Lincoln carefully examined the papers.
"Is it founded on fact?" he asked.
"No," Herndon answered.
Lincoln scratched his head thoughtfully and asked:
"Billy, hadn't we better withdraw that plea? You know it's a sham and generally that's another name for a lie. Don't let it go on record. The cursed thing may come staring us in the face long after this suit has been forgotten."
On the whole he was not so communicative as he had been in his young manhood. He suffered days of depression when he said little. Often, in good company, be seemed to be thinking of things in no way connected with the talk. Many called him a rather "shut-mouthed man."
Herndon used to say that the only thing he had against Lincoln was his habit of coming in mornings and sprawling on the lounge and reading aloud from the newspaper.
The people of the town loved him. One day as we were walking along the street together we came upon a girl dressed up and crying in front of her father's door.
"What's the matter?" Lincoln asked.
"I want to take the train and the wagon hasn't come for my trunk," said she.
Lincoln went in and got the trunk and carried it to the station on his back, with people laughing and throwing jokes at him as he strode along. When I think of him his chivalry and kindness come first to mind.
He read much, but his days of book study were nearly ended. His learning was now got mostly in the school of experience. Herndon says, and I think it is true, that he never read to the end of a law book those days. The study of authorities was left to the junior partner. His reading was mostly outside the law. His knowledge of science was derived from Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.
He was still afraid of the Abolition Movement in 1852 and left town to avoid a convention of its adherents. He thought the effort to resist by force the laws of Kansas was criminal and would hurt the cause of freedom. "Let us have peace and revolutionize through the ballot-box," he urged.
In 1854 a little quarrel in New York began to weave the thread of destiny. Seward, Weed and Greeley had wielded decisive power in the party councils of that state. Seward was a high headed, popular idol. His plans and his triumphant progress absorbed his thought. Weed was dazzled by the splendor of this great star. Neither gave a thought to their able colleague—a poor man struggling to build up a great newspaper. An office, with fair pay, would have been a help to him those days. But he got no recognition of his needs and talents and services. Suddenly he wrote a letter to Weed in which he said:
"The firm of Seward, Weed and Greeley is hereby dissolved by the resignation of its junior member."
When Greeley had grown in power and wisdom until his name was known and honored from ocean to ocean, they tried to make peace with him, but in vain.
Then suddenly a new party and a new Lincoln were born on the same day in 1856 at a great meeting in Bloomington, Illinois. There his soul was to come into its stateliest mansion out of its lower vaulted past. For him the fulness of time had arrived. He was prepared for it. His intellect had also reached the fulness of its power. Now his great right hand was ready for the thunderbolts which his spirit had been slowly forging. God called him in the voices of the crowd. He was quick to answer. He went up the steps to the platform. I saw, as he came forward, that he had taken the cross upon him. Oh, it was a memorable thing to see the smothered flame of his spirit leaping into his face. His hands were on his hips. He seemed to grow taller as he advanced. The look of him reminds me now of what the famous bronze founder in Paris said of the death-mask, that it was the most beautiful head and face he had ever seen. What shall I say of his words save that it seemed to me that the voice of God was in them? I never saw an audience so taken up and swept away. The reporters forgot to report. It is a lost speech. There is no record of it. I suppose it was scribbled with a pencil on scraps of paper and on the backs of envelopes at sundry times, agreeably with his habit, and committed to memory. So this great speech, called by some the noblest effort of his life, was never printed. I remember one sentence relating to the Nebraska bill:
"Let us use ballots, not bullets, against the weapons of violence, which are those of kingcraft. Their fruits are the dying bed of the fearless Sumner, the ruins of the Free State Hotel, the smoking timbers of the Herald of Freedom, the Governor of Kansas chained to a stake like a horse-thief."
In June, 1858, he took the longest step of all. The Republican State Convention had endorsed him for the United States Senate. It was then that he wrote on envelopes and scraps of paper at odd moments, when his mind was off duty, the speech beginning:
"A house divided against itself must fall. Our Government can not long endure part slave and part free."
I was among the dozen friends to whom he read that speech in the State House library. One said of those first sentences: "It is a fool utterance." Another: "It is ahead of its time." Another declared that it would drive away the Democrats who had lately joined the party. Herndon and I were the only ones who approved it.
Lincoln had come to another fork in the road. For a moment I wondered which way he would go.
Immediately he rose and said with an emphasis that silenced opposition:
"Friends, this thing has been held back long enough. The time has come when these sentiments should be uttered, and if it is decreed that I shall go down because of this speech, then let me go down linked to the truth."
His conscience had prevailed. The speech was delivered. Douglas, the Democratic candidate, came on from Washington to answer it. That led to Lincoln's challenge to a joint debate. I was with him through that long campaign. Douglas was the more finished orator. Lincoln spoke as he split rails. His conscience was his beetle. It drove his arguments deep into the souls of his hearers. The great thing about him was his conscience. Unless his theme were big enough to give it play in noble words he could be as commonplace as any one. He was built for a tool of God in tremendous moral issues. He was awkward and diffident in beginning a speech. Often his hands were locked behind him. He gesticulated more with his head than his hands. He stood square-toed always. He never walked about on the platform. He scored his points with the long, bony, index finger of his right hand. Sometimes he would hang a hand on the lapel of his coat as if to rest it. Perspiration dripped from his face. His voice, high pitched at first, mellowed into a pleasant sound.
One sentence in Lincoln's speech at Ottawa thrust "The Little Giant" of Illinois out of his way forever. It was this pregnant query:
"Can the people of a United States territory in any lawful way and against the wish of any citizen of the United States exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution?"
He knew that Douglas would answer yes and that, doing so, he would alienate the South and destroy his chance to be President two years later. That is exactly what came to pass. "The Little Giant's" answer was the famous "Freeport Heresy." He was elected to the Senate but was no longer possible as a candidate for the Presidency.
I come now to the last step in the career of my friend and beloved master. It was the Republican convention of 1860 in Chicago. I was a delegate. The New Yorkers came in white beaver hats enthusiastic for Seward, their favorite son. He was the man we dreaded most. Many in the great crowd were wearing his colors. The delegations were in earnest session the night before the balloting began. The hotel corridors were thronged with excited men. My father had become a man of wealth and great influence in Illinois. I was with him when he went into the meeting of the Michigan delegates and talked to them. He told how he came West in a wagon and saw the spirit of America in the water floods of Niagara and went on to the cabin village of New Salem and saw again the spirit of America in the life of the boy, Abe Lincoln, then flowing toward its manhood. When he sat down the Honorable Dennis Flanagan arose and told of meeting the Traylor party at the Falls when he was driving an ox-team, in a tall beaver hat; how he had remembered their good advice and cookies and jerked venison.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am willing to take the word of a man whose name is hallowed by my dearest recollections. And believing what he has said of Abraham Lincoln I am for him on the second ballot."
The green Irish lad, whom I remember dimly, had become a great political chieftain and his words had much effect. There was a stir among the delegates. I turned and saw the tall form of Horace Greeley entering the door. His big, full face looked rather serious. He wore gold-bowed spectacles. He was smooth-shaven save for the silken, white, throat beard that came out from under his collar. His head was bald on top with soft, silvered locks over each ear. He was a picturesque and appealing figure. They called on him to speak. He stepped forward and said slowly in a high-pitched drawl:
"Gentlemen, this is my speech: On your second ballot vote for Abraham Lincoln of Illinois."
He bowed and left the room and visited many delegations, and everywhere expressed his convictions in this formula. Backed by his tremendous personality and influence the simple words were impressive. I doubt not they turned scores of men from Seward to the great son of Illinois.
Then—the campaign with its crowds, its enthusiasm, its Vesuvian mutterings. There was a curious touch of humor and history in its banners. Here are three of them:
"Menard County for the Tall Sucker."
"We are for old Abe the Giant-Killer."
"Link on to Lincoln."
Then—those last days in Springfield.
He came to the office the afternoon before he left and threw himself on the lounge and talked of bygone days with Herndon.
"Billy, how long have we been together?" he asked.
"Never a cross word."
"Keep the old sign hanging. A little thing like the election of a President should make no change in the firm of Lincoln and Herndon. If I live I'm coming back some time and then we'll go right on with the practice of the law as if nothing had happened."
Then—that Monday morning in Springfield when at eight o'clock on the eleventh of February the train bore him toward the great task of his life. Hannah Armstrong, who had foxed his trousers in New Salem, and the venerable Doctor Allen and the Brimsteads, and Aleck Ferguson, bent with age, and Harry Needles and Bim and their four handsome children, and my father and mother, and Betsey, my maiden sister, and Eli Fredenberg were there in the crowd to bid him good-by.
A quartet sang. Mr. Lincoln asked his friends and neighbors to pray for his success. He was moved by the sight of them and could not have said much if he had tried. The bell rang. The train started. He waved his hand and was gone. Not many of us who stood trying to see through our tears were again to look upon him. The years of preparation were ended and those of sacrifice had begun.
Now, we are at the foot of the last hill. For a long time I had seen it looming in the distance. Those days it filled my heart with a great fear. Now, how beautiful, how lonely it seems! Oh, but what a vineyard in that very fruitful hill! I speak low when I think of it. Harry Needles and I were on our way to Washington that fateful night of April 14, 1865. We reached there at an early hour in the morning. We made our way through the crowded streets to the little house opposite Ford's Theatre. An officer who knew me cleared a way for us to the door. Reporters, statesmen, citizens and their families were massed in the street waiting with tear-stained faces for the end. Some of them were sobbing as we passed. We were admitted without delay. A minister and the doctor sat by the bedside. The latter held an open watch in his hand. I could hear it ticking the last moments in an age of history. What a silence as the great soul of my friend was "breaking camp to go home." Friends of the family and members of the Cabinet were in the room. Through the open door of a room beyond I saw Mrs. Lincoln and the children and others. We looked at our friend lying on the bed. His kindly face was pale and haggard. He breathed faintly and at long intervals. His end was near.